Originally published 1906
The Man in Lower Ten was the first mystery novel written by Mary Roberts Rinehart, and is known as the first detective novel to appear on national bestseller lists (I haven't checked that out, but it sounds likely).
In the story, Lawrence Blakeley, a young attorney working in Washington DC, sets off by train to deliver valuable documents in a criminal case. Because of a slightly mysterious mishap, he ends up sleeping in the wrong berth, and having his clothes and luggage (with the documents inside), as well as his identity, stolen. Even more disturbing, a dead man is found in lower ten, the berth that should have been Blakeley's, and suspicion falls on the young lawyer. But before anyone can explain the situation, the train he's riding in is involved in a deadly accident and Blakeley ends up making his way back home in the company of another of the survivors -- an attractive young woman (Alison West) who turns out to be the fiancee of his friend and partner in the Washington law firm. And Blakeley also just happens to come into possession of some objects that seem to incriminate the young woman in the murder on the train.
Hmmmm. Complicated enough for ya? Well, it gets even more so, with policemen and amateur detectives working on the case. And people spying on Blakeley from the house next door. And Blakeley trying to keep his partner from finding out about Alison's possible involvement in the affair. And, of course, Blakeley falling in love with Alison and trying to keep that from his partner, too.
But the complicated plot and sinister elements are balanced by Rinehart's satiric humor and Blakeley's light-hearted narration. And everything is sorted out and explained in the last couple of chapters, just as it should be.
As a teen, I read quite a bit of MRR's work but haven't read anything by her in many years. Reading this has made me remember what a good story-teller she was. In spite of a lot of dated elements, the story has such a contemporary feel that I kept forgetting it was written over a hundred years ago. Definitely a fun read.
********************Some favorite quotes:
- Have you ever seen a fly, who, in these hygienic days, finding no cobwebs to entangle him, is caught in a sheet of fly paper, finds himself more and more mired, and is finally quiet with the sticky stillness of despair?...Well, I was the fly. (Chapter VII)
- "Love is like the measles," he orated. "The older you get it, the worse the attack." (Chapter XVI)